Super Eagles laboured to a tepid 1-1 score line with minnow Blue Sharks of Cape Verde in front of a fanatic home crowd in Lagos to book a place in the final playoffs of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Nigeria ended the Group C with 13 points with Cape Verde two points less. Liberia who defeated CAR 3-1 in the group’s other dead rubber clash finished third on six points with the later at the rear on four points.
Just like Gernot Rohr’s wards did against the Central African Republic, Eagles failed to lift their game to the level of a team expected to reckon amongst the 10 countries that sealed their places in the African playoffs.
The only thing of note to show for the much anticipated showdown with the Blue Sharks was the very first minute razzmatazz that resulted in Napoli forward, Victor Osimhen netting the opener.
Man of the Match Osimhen lashed in off a defensive mistake by Cape Verde’s Roberto Lopes after an in-swinger by Moses Simon caught the visitors’ rearguard napping.
But the lead was speedily erased when at the other end, William Troost-Ekong needlessly conceded a corner kick and then stood flat-footed as Stopyra connected to beat a flailing Maduka Okoye. This was in the 5th minute.
Four minutes later, Alex Iwobi’s shot was powerless to trouble goalkeeper Josimar Dias, and in the 24th minute, Leon Balogun’s header from a corner kick flew away from goal.
Joe Aribo could have scored but his shots in the 26th and 30th minutes narrowly missed target. In the 33rd minute, returnee forward Odion Ighalo should have scored with a free header as the inspired Osimhen found him with a pullout, but the ball went narrowly over.
Rohr opted for his now too predictable 4-4-2 formation and paired returnee forward Ighalo with Osimhen up front. Kelechi Iheanacho was left on the bench.
Although fans had anticipated a goal feast after that early minute advantage, the attacking duo lacked the cutting edge to put Nigeria back in front with several wasted opportunities.
“We wanted to win but things were a bit difficult for my team and at a point in the match we had to be conservative to avoid complications like it happened the last time against Central African Republic.
“My forward line was okay and no qualms with substitution of Ighalo in the second half because we are working as a unit but my only challenge was with the defence line which I hope would be corrected as we prepare for AFCON next January,” Rohr said at post match chat with reporters.
Team. P. W. D. L. F. A. GD. PTS
Nigeria 6 4. 1. 1. 9. 3. 6. 13
C’ Verde 6. 3. 2. 1 8. 6. 2. 11
Liberia. 6. 2. 0. 4. 5. 8. -3. 6.
CAR . 6. 1. 1. 4. 4. 9. -5. 4.